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Determination: How to Set Goals and Go After Them
Desire is the key to motivation, but it's the determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal--a commitment to excellence--that will enable you to attain the success you seek.
One Sunday morning Ed McMahon, a client of mine who works on Wall Street, attended the 8:00 a.m. mass at his church without his wife and kids because he wanted to make the 10:00 a.m. tee-off time he'd set up with his golf buddies. He sat in the back, letting the priest's words wash over him, thinking about some of the reading he'd been doing from books I'd given him.
And suddenly, he was envisioning his funeral mass.
He could see his casket at the front of the church. It was as though he were suspended above it. Who is sitting in the pews? he wondered. Who will deliver the eulogy? What will be said about me?
"It caught me off-guard, I can tell you," he said. "I didn't go to mass to think that deep! It's programmed into me to just sit there and say thank you."
But in the month Ed and I had been working together, he'd been doing, in fact, quite a bit of deep thinking. At forty-six he was at the top of the pyramid, the senior guy on the equity trading desk at Merrill Lynch. He had a nice home and nice things. He was happily married, with four kids--two of them out of college plus ten- and seven-year-olds. On every front, he was doing enviably well. And yet he couldn't help but feel something was missing. He'd been the guy from Brooklyn without a college education who'd fought his way to the center of the ring. Now that he'd won, he was almost sorry the fight was over. The challenges he handled day-to-day felt predictable. More and more, it felt to him like he was just going through the motions, fast and furious but not really accomplishing anything. He didn't know what he'd rather be doing, though. That was the problem. He knew he was in a rut but couldn't jump-start himself out of it.
Sure enough, when Ed took the survey, his Determination score came up short. He was low on motivation. His commitment was flagging. And despite having achieved so much, without a new goal with real meaning, he lacked the will to succeed.
What Is Determination?
Determination is drive. It's the mind-set that impels you to make things happen. It's the strength, the power, of your intent. And it's the mental foundation on which the other six skills are built. No performance can go well without your having true grit--the determination to perform at the outermost edge of your capabilities. Success cannot be achieved without it.
People who lack determination usually do so for three reasons. One, they lack intrinsic motivation. Or to put it differently, they're missing the drive from within--the passion, the fire. That fire is ignited by a goal or desire. Those short on motivation have nothing driving them forward--no dream, no well-defined goal, no unmet desire or need.
Two, they're short on commitment. They're unable to vest themselves in the pursuit of any one thing. Commitment to a goal is rarely 100 percent--most of us have multiple priorities, after all, such as work, family, and a social/leisure life. But those lacking commitment can't even prioritize. They're immobilized by their options: They have so many, they can't pick one to start on. They're unable to decide which route to take because they can't decide which is the best one. Or they want to keep all their options open. Either way, they're stuck at the crossroads, incapable of taking action.
Finally, those who lack determination lack what I call will to succeed. This differs from intrinsic motivation in that it's more a function of the external pressures pulling us rather than our innermost dreams driving us. Perhaps we're seduced by our culture or socioeconomic group to make money or to gain status. Perhaps we want to prove something to our peers or win the approval of a certain group of people. Our will to succeed is affected by what we perceive to be others' definition of success.
Everybody knows what a lack of determination feels like: It feels like a rut. Like treading water. Like going through the motions. Like the engine is idling, instead of in gear.
But it seems that not many people know how to get out of this rut, how to come by the mind-set that moves mountains. Even the highly successful ones, sooner or later, run out of gas and have to wonder, Is this it? Is this all there is?
Many of my clients, like Ed McMahon, are at the top of what Abraham Maslow, founder of psychology's Human Potential Movement, termed the Hierarchy of Needs. They've taken care of baseline needs like food and warmth; they've moved beyond those to acquire physical security, like a house; they've managed to answer the human need to belong, to feel loved by family or friends, recognized by their peers; and they've even achieved a certain level of self-esteem. If you imagine these needs stacked up into a pyramid, then they are close to the pinnacle.
Yet like Ed, they're not all that happy, having achieved these things, because the fun is in the achieving, and now--well, now what? is the question they can't answer. David*, forty-one, an administrative department head, came to me because he thought his poor self-confidence was hurting his career; in fact, his career was hurting his confidence, because it wasn't what he wanted to do with his life. Career crises, marriage crises, crises of faith, crises of confidence--all are often just symptomatic of a fundamental absence of meaningful goals. While this abyss seems to yawn widest in midlife (because the quest for spouse, house, and kids is over and the career is on autopilot), it can open up at any time. Tom*, thirty-one, was a computer programmer who was floundering in midlevel management because he lacked a plan to move himself toward his dream of forming his own software company.
All these clients, you might say, were accustomed to feeling driven, but without something to shoot for, they couldn't summon any drive. Without something to aim for, they no longer enjoyed playing the game. It's as though they're out on a golf course with no holes. What's the point of driving the ball well? What's the point of even playing? Golf is defined by its holes. Without them, it's just hitting balls into the woods--not much fun in that.
There is something more to go after, however. There is one need they have yet to answer--what Maslow identified as the need to self-actualize.
History continues to be made because of the innate drive in humankind to stretch our limits, test our capacities, and exploit our talents to their fullest. Maslow studied highly functional individuals like Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Schweitzer, not the dysfunctional types Sigmund Freud documented, because he wanted to understand the makeup of fully actualized individuals, those who continually achieved and redefined their goals in order to tap the furthest reaches of their potential. What set of qualities, what kind of psyche, he asked, led some people to keep pushing the envelope of the possible? And how could the rest of us come by that mind-set?
One of my life goals has been to translate Maslow's findings into concrete exercises that my clients can use to mobilize themselves out of ruts. And what I've found, in working with individuals poised on the brink of self-actualization, is that they often need help formulating their mission. Tapping one's full potential is a mission that's so big, so amorphous, and so daunting that most people don't know how to get a handle on it. But if we can break it down into a manageable task, our resolve strengthens. Our commitment grows. The power of our intent outguns the force of our fears. With clear goals to pursue, our intrinsic motivation fires up, and we find ourselves brimming with the will to succeed. I've seen this process happen with my clients over and over again.
Determination, in other words, is really a function of having clear goals--whether they're short-term assignments or long-term dreams. My goal in this chapter is to help you figure out your long-term mission, the so-called big picture; I've got two exercises that can help you zero in on your priorities. Then I'm going to give you the goal-mapping tools to break it down into intermediate and short-term goals. Once you have your goals and game plan in place, you will find that intrinsic motivation, commitment, and will to succeed develop all by themselves. Do the exercises, and you'll have both the dream to go after and the tools to make it come true.
But let's begin small. Let's get you in the habit of setting small goals, working out short-term strategies, and racking up modest successes. I want you to see just how powerful a clear goal and a straightforward game plan can be in terms of building your determination.
The Four-Point Field Order
What fostered my own determination was Ranger School, the two-month course in commando tactics that West Pointers are obliged to complete after graduation.
Ranger School was fifty-eight days of pure torture. We experienced every imaginable physical deprivation--no food, no rest, no dry clothing, no fires, no shelter--while patrolling hill and dale to engage aggressor forces. Typically, these patrols would begin with a jump out of an airplane or helicopter at dusk. We had military maps to help us gauge our location once we were on the ground. Whoever was designated as the patrol leader was given the mission and twenty minutes to come up with a game plan--what the army calls a Five-Point Field Order.
It always followed the same structure. It's such a useful way to transform the impossible or overwhelming into a plan of action that to this day I apply it to every challenge that threatens to immobilize me--although I've condensed the process somewhat, into a Four-Point Field Order. Here's how it goes:
1. Assess the situation. Dropped in a swamp or jungle, our first job was to send out a party and note key terrain features and landmarks so that we could find our location. Once we knew where we were, we could get a handle on the situation.
2. Determine the mission. It was usually an enemy outpost fifteen or twenty miles away across swampland, through dense forest, over mountains. We were to capture the enemy village with a minimum of casualties and free the captives by 0800 hours.
3. Figure out the execution and logistics. We had to come up with a strategy, a detailed plan by which we would accomplish the mission. We needed to factor in the enemy, major obstacles, and the time we planned to arrive at our attack position. We attended to details such as who would carry the mines, when we would eat (if at all), when we would sleep (never), and what our intermediate checkpoints were--where we'd assemble if we got split up.
4. Prepare for contingencies. Our mission was nonnegotiable. But we did formulate alternate strategies so that no matter what we encountered, we had a plan to enable us to move forward and stay on track. If we got cut off from one path by an assault, we had another one mapped out. We were ready for all contingencies so that no matter what, we'd accomplish the mission.
Now let's discuss these points as they apply to you. First: Have you assessed your situation? You can't go anywhere or accomplish anything until you figure out where you are. Only then will it become clear what kind of journey lies ahead, what kind of challenges you face, what kind of time frame you're working with. Do you know where you stand? Do you know where you're going? Do you know what you're up against?
If you completed the Seven Skills Survey, this work is already finished. You have gotten your bearings. You know where you stand in terms of what you have and what you need for the journey. You have a sense of your weaknesses, a firmer idea of your strengths. Great. We can move ahead to step two in the field order: Determine the mission.
You doubtless have many missions, but let's start with one that's limited in scope and duration. I can presume, since you're reading this book, that you want to groom yourself better for success. Let's say the survey has helped you identify two areas--courage and resilience--that need work. You're not a risk taker. Whether for reasons of nature or nurture, you've always played it safe, fearful that if you tried, and failed, you'd never recover. You probably can't see yourself becoming a risk taker anytime soon, either. But you may already see how your innate conservatism has held you back. Your play-it-safe strategy has peaked in terms of upward mobility. Your career, your life, and your satisfaction have all plateaued.
Your mission, then, should you decide to accept it (not that we were given this choice in Ranger School), is to find and take small steps past your comfort zone. Your goal is to change your reflex: to act on desire rather than allow fear of failure or fear of the unknown to paralyze you.
How are you going to achieve that?
We thus come to the execution phase of the field order. You need to figure out a strategy by which you can attain your goal, as well as a reasonable time frame and the tools to implement it. This book is in fact your method, your route. Since each chapter explores a factor in the success equation, you need to read up on the factors you're missing--let's say they are courage and resilience. The discussion in each chapter will help change your mind-set, which is the first leg of the route. The training exercises will help you build your courage muscle, toughen your skin, and provoke the fighter within you. Taken together, they'll inch you toward your goal--provided your timing is right. I can't stress enough how timing can affect the outcome of your mission; don't undertake this regimen until you have the energy, time, and freedom to apply yourself. You need time to read, time to jot down some notes, and time to perform the prescribed exercises on a daily basis. You'll need a minimum of three weeks for the exercises to help you acquire each skill.
Which brings us to the final step: contingency planning. Life is full of interruptions--children home sick, a broken ankle, a parent in need of full-time care, a new boss, a new project at work--but that doesn't mean you get off track with this program. Pick out a feasible time to resume your work if you have to suddenly put the program aside. Don't allow your goals to be jeopardized just because your schedule changes.
From the Trade Paperback edition.